Address to Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet

on behalf of 

Oxfordshire Liveable Streets

26th May, 2020

When it comes to transport, there is no longer a status quo. The population does not expect the usual procedures to apply. The government did not consult the people of Britain before implementing lockdown, and over 80% of the population consented to it, and now feels that it was the right thing to do. The reason was clear: public health.

The government is now telling you to do the same thing.

1st July is the watershed, when cafes, bars, even cinemas could open for business. People are scared about the uncertainty of the end of lockdown. They are more apprehensive than ever about coming into a city or town centre. They may come in once, but if they feel scared, unable to socially distance or breathe clean air, they will not come back. The government’s advice is to avoid public transport, and to drive where walking and cycling are not possible. For Oxfordshire, where the roads were at capacity since long before Covid-19, a sudden upswing in private car usage will present a challenge. Oxford and the town centres will choke, physically and economically.

As the local authority for Oxfordshire, you have the power to protect our businesses and our futures. Create an environment that puts people first, reassuring their fears by unequivocally prioritizing their health: in this case, protecting public space for social distancing, and protecting air quality to prevent exacerbating the impact of Covid-19.

Oxfordshire Liveable Streets (OLS) urges you to bring forward the implementation of a “Plus” version of Connecting Oxford, so that it is in place by 1st July. This is in line with other leading cities such as London, Manchester, Glasgow, Leicester, York, Brighton, and Bristol. On 21st January this Cabinet endorsed Connecting Oxford and we commend you for doing so.  However, in their report officers noted that,

“Other traffic restrictions and other traffic management schemes, including ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’, might be required to ensure traffic is not displaced and residential roads are not used as rat-runs.”

The “Plus” version of Connecting Oxford achieves this instantly. It also creates room for walking and cycling now – while bus usage is discouraged – and will improve bus performance in the future. We know this is true from other authorities that have taken the leap – most recently Ghent in Belgium.

The good news: the “Plus” version of Connecting Oxford is only two bus-gates away from the original.

We further urge you to work closely with Oxford City Council and with the district councils to provide public space for city businesses to restart as lockdown eases; secondly, to fast-track ‘liveable neighbourhoods’ schemes; and thirdly, to commit to segregated and continuous cycle lanes along the lengths of the city’s main arterial routes, to allow those whose confidence at cycling has been growing during lockdown to continue their good habits, and make a permanent shift to active, healthy travel.

We commend you all for the outstanding work you’ve been undertaking so urgently with district councils and with Oxford City Council. We appreciate the extreme pressure you are under.

We’ve all seen the images of car-choked Wuhan, as residents replaced bus journeys with car journeys. Could that happen here? In January, the world looked at the quarantine of Wuhan, and thought, “That would never happen here.” In March, Boris Johnson told the nation that he was going to have to do the unimaginable and stop Britons going to the pub. Now, the government is telling you to act, and we urge you to act as well, to ensure that this county remains open for business.

Thank you.

Dr. Liz Sawyer

On behalf of

Oxfordshire Liveable  Streets

Video animation of Connecting Oxford and Connecting Oxford Plus.

See our full statement here: https://oxlivsts.org.uk/connecting-oxford/ols-statement-on-connecting-oxford-covid-19/

Connecting Oxford Plus

Connecting Oxford is the city and county councils’ proposal to improve transportation in Oxford. It (1) takes through-car traffic out of the city centre and (2) takes through-traffic out of the inner ring-road (B4495). Both of these would be accomplished by ANPR cameras to allow transit of permitted vehicles (in particular, buses, hence “bus gates”). A workplace parking levy would apply to larger employers along the B4495. This would simultaneously discourage car use and help pay for a new bus route along the B4495, linking the northern park and rides to the park and ride at Redbridge in the south.

The proposal survived a public survey in autumn 2019, clearing the way for more detailed planning in winter 2020. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

COVID-19

The novel coronavirus pandemic makes Connecting Oxford all the more important — but also unworkable in its current form.

Put simply, the plan is an incomplete version of one that could enable far greater use of COVID-19-ready modes of transport — cycling and walking — plus massively increased bus usage in a public-transport-ready state of the world.

The logical improvement to is to upgrade Connecting Oxford by adding two more bus gates in East Oxford. We believe both councils need to review this with urgency. We believe this modification will be consistent with the Autumn 2019 Connecting Oxford survey results and with both councils’ cabinet endorsements given that all of these were qualified by language to the effect that ‘additional restrictions may have to be considered to deal with excessive displacement of traffic’. Moreover, the councils can cite Department for Transport instructions to take such action with urgency.

Two more bus gates

Two additional bus gates are needed to prevent heavy use of south-east Oxford corridors Iffley and Cowley roads to avoid the Hollow Way bus gate. The locations of these two gates are:

  • London Place and
  • Warneford Lane.

As shown in the map below, the current drive-time reported by Google Maps between A34/Southern-bypass and the JR Hospital is 12 minutes by Iffley Road versus 14 minutes by London Road. Without bus gates on St Clements (just south of Marston Road) and Warneford Lane, these will be default options once Hollow Way is bus-gated.

Win-win

The existing version of Connecting Oxford has five bus gates: three to remove through-traffic from the city centre and two to prioritise bus passage along the B4495. The proposed version has seven, adding gates east and west of South Park. This effectively segments the city within the outer ring road into four zones as shown in the maps. The councils need not adopt an explicit “zoning” element in the language of Connecting Oxford if this is too big a departure from the Connecting Oxford plan that was put to survey in autumn 2019. Explicitly “zoned” or not, this seven-gate approach will have the virtues of zoned systems put to use to great effect elsewhere.

One of the key virtues is massive increment to cycling modal share, which is exactly what the central government is calling for right now. The city of Ghent in Belgium discovered that its zoned system, implemented in 2017, induced a cycling modal share by 2019 that wasn’t expected until 2030. Put simply: When private cars are comprehensively discouraged, the added space for other modes induces the use of them. But Ghent drivers also discovered they could get to their destinations faster because the reduced congestion more than made up for the more circuitous routes. Zoned systems give space to drive for those who need it.

We describe the seven-gate plan as “win-win” because this plan not only helps enable COVID-19-ready forms of sustainable transport right now, it also sets the scene for an even better bus network in future. The numbers 4, 8, 9, and 13 bus routes pass through the anticipated extra bus gates, as do several routes further afield. Moreover, bus travel along Cowley and Iffley roads (routes 1, 3, 5, 10 and 16, as well as routes further afield) will be massively enhanced by the reduction in private-car volume on these two roads if bus gates are introduced on London Place and Warneford Lane.

The map below shows in detail the location of the two additional bus gates needed in Connecting Oxford.

Connecting Oxford and other elements of transport improvement

We recognise that both councils are pushing ahead with a wide array of transport improvements with sustainability at their heart. We applaud them for this. Examples include the adoption of an Oxford LCWIP (pdf) (which has been cited nationally for its ambition), application to central government to fund the LCWIP, expansion of the Zero Emission Zone, deployment of cargo-bike delivery prioritisation, and many others. Below, we highlight two more.

City council “Wish list”

On May 11, Oxford City Council published a wish list of public-realm improvements to help kick-start the city centre economy and to contribute to public health in the long term. These include the decades-overdue de-motorisation of Broad Street. We urge the county council to add some of these “wish list” improvements to Connecting Oxford and, if necessary, re-run the survey. Experience shows that the public are more amenable to grand transport plans when they are seen to give significant public realm improvements to the public whilst also making demands of the public in terms of upending decades-old patterns of travel.

Liveable neighbourhoods

In addition to having endorsed the best LCWIP in the country, the county council have just finished an engagement exercise on the long-term vision for transport. Among the many concepts in the long-term vision is the “Low-traffic neighbourhood” (which we call a liveable neighbourhood, or LN). The final form of Connecting Oxford has particular relevance to the prioritisation of LNs:

_ Adoption of the seven-gated version of Connecting Oxford makes Headington Quarry the priority for LN treatment. This area is already overrun by extra-neighbourhood car journeys — journeys that neither originate nor terminate in the Quarry area. An LN here should cover a roughly 1 sq-km area and will be even more crucial given the added pressure to reach Headington workplaces and the JR hospital by private car. Such journeys need to be routed onto the proper through-route arterial infrastructure. Traffic evaporation will prevent such routes from experiencing the ‘gridlock’ that many will fear will result from a Quarry LN.

_ Adoption of the existing five-gated version of Connecting Oxford means LN treatment will be urgent in several East Oxford neighbourhoods, in addition to Quarry in Headington. Already, in East Oxford alone, LN campaigns are springing up in: Divinity-Road area; St Marys Ward area; Florence Park, and Church Cowley area. Each of these will need modal filtering to deal with the increased pressures of through-traffic trying to reach Headington and Marston from the south of Oxford (and vice-versa).

The moment for leadership

Oxfordshire Liveable Streets and our partners in the Coalition for Healthy Streets and Active Travel (CoHSAT) enthusiastically welcomed the councils’ ambition when Connecting Oxford was unveiled in summer 2019. As of now, spring/summer 2020, the context has changed in ways that we will only begin fully to appreciate in the months and years to come. We urge our leaders to revisit their pre-COVID-19 plans, upgrade them in the key ways we’ve outlined, and if necessary re-engage the public on them. The situation demands nothing less.

Don’t miss this event! Live Q&A with the director and with the leader of Waltham Forest Borough Council.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/motherload-movie-fewer-cars-more-go-tickets-103524422334

Sunday, May 3. 645-945 pm.

Oxfordshire Liveable Streets supports the Zero Emission Zone proposed for central Oxford, but we feel it is far too limited in scope, and not just in the area covered.

There are many reasons for reducing and restricting motor traffic in central Oxford. With its narrow focus on exhaust emissions, the proposed Oxford Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) risks losing sight of most of these, and of the broader picture, and as a result is likely to be limited in its effectiveness. We urge the councils to evolve the ZEZ into a Minimal Motor Traffic Zone within which all motor traffic would be restricted, and progressively reduced to the minimum possible.

Private motor traffic takes up a disproportionate amount of space for the number of people being moved and thus hinders rather than enhances overall mobility. It not only reduces the amount of public space, but impairs the quality of the space there is. It is striking that Oxford lacks any kind of significant public plaza, something most comparable European — and even many UK — cities have. Motor traffic creates road danger, endangering vulnerable users or deterring them from visiting or transiting through the city centre at all. Electric vehicles are actually worse here, because they are heavier and accelerate faster. And motor traffic creates non-exhaust air pollution, from tyre wear, brake wear, and resuspension of road dust. Electric vehicles generate less brake wear, because of regenerative braking, but because they are heavier produce more tyre and road particulates.

So controls on motor traffic in central Oxford should not have a narrow focus on exhaust emissions and electric vehicles. At low levels of electric vehicle use, a ZEZ effectively grants a small number of well-off vehicle owners special privileges to access the city centre and use the space within it. At high levels of electric vehicle use, a ZEZ would become effectively meaningless, ceasing to do anything to constrain motor vehicle traffic at all.

The ZEZ should be reworked into a Minimal Motor Traffic Zone covering central Oxford, which would constrain access by all motor vehicles, with exhaust emissions just one of the criteria used. Ideally this would work by restricting access to vehicles with explicit permits, using a combination of charges and time and duration restrictions to create an incentive for less harmful choices. This could be used not just to favour electric vehicles, but to favour less polluting vehicles more generally, smaller and lighter vehicles over larger and heavier ones, and cycle freight over motor vehicles of any kind. And it should be coupled with a commitment to progressively reduce vehicle parking in the city centre, both visitor, workplace and residential.

We understand and support taxis and buses being treated separately. This is where air pollution concerns are most pressing and electrification is most valuable, because these vehicles have high utilisation rates and spend disproportionate amounts of time in areas with large numbers of people. Here again, however, the concerns and trade-offs involve not just exhaust emissions but also road danger, road surface damage, non-exhaust emissions, and space utilisation. We urge the councils to consider implementation of the Phil Jones Associates proposals for the city centre, or to find alternative approaches to finding space to improve the public realm and enable active travel.

Image: Enjoy Waltham Forest

submitted by Oxfordshire Liveable Streets — 25 November 2019
contact Danny Yee <danny@oxlivsts.org.uk>

The changes to the original proposals for Botley Rd introduce some small improvements and some regressions. In the light of Connecting Oxford and the urgent need to reduce motor traffic volumes, we urge consideration of bigger changes.

Comments on the changes

We support the extension of the 20mph zone westwards. It would be better if it were extended further, perhaps to the Seacourt Park and Ride, but extension to Binsey Lane does cover the worst pinch points and the narrowest section of roadway.

The new plans appear to remove sections of cycle track that were in the original consultation. In particular there no longer appears to be an eastbound cycle track across the Eynsham Rd junction.

The parking changes seem good. Parking needs to be removed anywhere it would block the footpaths or cycle lanes, or where it would result in the latter being in the “door zone”. (Note that Highways England’s “CD 195: Designing for cycle traffic” requires an extra 0.5m of width for cycle lanes or tracks adjacent to obstacles higher than 60cm.) It also needs to be clear to drivers that parking on the off-carriageway cycle tracks (or footpaths) is not allowed, and this needs to be enforceable. Given the state of parking enforcement elsewhere in Oxford, our preference would be for this to be done using bollards or other physical infrastructure wherever possible.

The pedestrian crossings have been improved slightly, but are still too few. Unsignalised crossings that require pedestrians to cross four lanes of motor traffic are dangerous — or simply inaccessible — to a range of people.

We are unhappy that the “minor side road entry” design in the original consultation appears to have been abandoned. If the new design follows the design of the red-brick raised humps elsewhere in Oxford, these offer a kind of “confused priority”, with the risk of some people walking thinking they have priority and some people driving thinking they have priority… We urge reconsideration of fully blended/Copenhagen crossings on all the smaller side-roads on Botley Rd. It is also essential that people cycling have clear priority over motor traffic at entries such as Poplar Rd, where they do not appear to on the current plans.

The problems with the original design remain

The scheme remains predicated on motor traffic volumes which are unsustainable: it doesn’t seem to take the effects of Connecting Oxford into account, or the climate emergency, or the pressing need to reduce air pollution.

The design still prioritises private motor traffic and buses over walking and cycling, most notably in the allocation of space. There needs to be a commitment, through Connecting Oxford or otherwise, to reducing motor traffic volumes enough to make the bus lanes unnecessary, freeing up space for adequate width footpaths and cycle tracks, bus stops, and loading access, and avoiding pedestrians having to cross four lanes of motor traffic.

There is still no commitment to colouring the cycle tracks, which would be the biggest single cycling safely improvement. We reiterate that if road colouring is too expensive to do both, the cycle lanes and tracks should be coloured and the bus lanes left uncoloured: to reverse that is to prioritise helping drivers avoid fines over the safety of people cycling and people walking.

The cycle tracks remain too narrow, at 1.5m in width. It is unsafe to have such narrow tracks directly adjacent to motor traffic, especially if that is in narrow 3 metre lanes. This is a problem even for some of the sections of “off-carriageway segregated cycle route”, as much of this appears to have no actual separation from the carriageway other than a short kerb.

There are still significant sections of “shared space” at bus stop bypasses and crossings, which are the locations most likely to see conflicts between people walking and cycling. This should be avoided wherever possible, if necessary by using short stretches of under-width cycle track (potentially as narrow as 1.2 metres, if well away from motor traffic).

It is hard to know how pedestrian-friendly the major junctions will be without knowing the light timings (though precedent suggests these will be optimised for motor traffic throughput rather than pedestrian safety or convenience). But these junctions as designed are likely to be quite terrifying for people cycling. Bicycles should never be turning alongside motor traffic at 30mph. The worst problems could be avoided by incorporating separate cycling times into the signalling, or by using a Dutch-style roundabout design with cycle traffic crossing motor traffic at right angles.

Local organic gardener ditches van to help tackle climate breakdown

For immediate release

Richard MacKenzie: hello@richardthegardener.co.uk 

A local organic gardener was moved to tears when he saw thousands of school students marching in the streets of Oxford demanding action on climate change in September. He has now ditched his van for a cargo-bike to travel to his customers in Kidlington and North Oxford reducing his travel emissions to zero including greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants. 

Richard MacKenzie (39), who is based in Kidlington, decided that his business had to become more sustainable and produce fewer greenhouse gases to help in tackling the current climate emergency. 

Although he aimed to make changes in spring 2020, Mr MacKenzie’s plan became urgent when his diesel van broke down in October and was beyond economical repair. 

After much research and testing, he settled on an 8Freight bike with cargo-box, the same setup used by emission-free Oxford couriers Pedal & Post. 

Richard said, “I looked at the environmental cost and the expense, in thousands per year, of running a van. Getting a cargo-bike to travel with my tools to my customers locally became a no-brainer”. He added, “I’ve already saved many kilos of carbon dioxide from being released as well as money that would have gone towards diesel, insurance and tax that a van devours.”

All being well, Mr MacKenzie will save around £3,500 each year by not having a van when purchase, vehicle excise duty, insurance and diesel are taken into account. It also will mean no more expensive garage bills. 

Scott Urban, a director of local campaigning group Oxfordshire Liveable Streets said, “By making this change, Richard has not only helped the city and our environment, he has also future-proofed himself for the changes to Oxford transport coming in the next couple of years. 

“By using a bike, Richard will sail through the ‘bus gates’ that have been proposed by both the county and city councils to prioritise active and sustainable modes of transport over private vehicular transport.” 

Richard set up his organic garden maintenance business in 2015 after working in a local market garden. Initially based in Witney, he moved the business to Kidlington in 2017 when he and his young family moved aboard their narrowboat to live life on Oxfordshire’s waterways. 

Twitter: twitter.com/_The_Gardener_
Facebook: facebook.com/GardenerRichard
Website: richardthegardener.co.uk

“Electrification and Simplification of Public Transport in Oxford: A ‘Revolutionary’ Suggestion” is a new pamphlet written by Oxford resident Keith Frayn. It begins:

Oxford’s bus network is characterised by duplication of buses on the main arterial routes, resulting in part from multiple bus operating companies and in part from the expressed wish of the bus operating companies not to ask passengers to transfer buses. This results in congestion, with buses holding up buses in heavy traffic in the city centre.

There are many problems with public transport in the city centre. St Aldates and High Street feel over-crowded with buses; heavy, long-distance buses roar through city centre streets; buses continue to need to use Queen Street despite opposition from many people; a new study has suggested routing buses along presently quiet streets including Holywell Street; bus stop placements are confusing; and there is overcrowding at bus stops so that local buses may not stop when there are already long-distance buses waiting.

You can download the full report here: Frayn – Oxford buses 2019. Comments welcome below.

You can download the Budget for a Low-Traffic Neighbourhood in Oxford here.

The budget was drawn up by C Proctor Engineering Ltd.  The firm’s proprietor, Chris Proctor, is the lead highways engineer overseeing implementation of Enjoy Waltham Forest, the suite of liveability improvements colloquially known as Mini Holland.

Waltham Forest Deputy Leader Clyde Loakes speaks about implementing the only successful ‘Mini Holland’ scheme in London.

Councillor Loakes is Deputy Leader of the Waltham Forest Borough Council. He will be speaking about the experience of Waltham Forest in implementing Britain’s first comprehensive low-traffic neighbourhood scheme. The scheme is part of a larger set of liveability improvements called Enjoy Waltham Forest. This is the implementation of the Mini Holland funds provided by Transport for London.

Mini Holland funds were available to any outer-London borough that was willing to implement a swathe of liveability improvements, of which low-traffic neighbourhoods were a key component. Eighteen bid for the funds, three were accepted, and Waltham Forest has delivered.

Waltham Forest has been feted for this programme, receiving over one hundred delegations from across the UK (and beyond) and winning a number of awards.

Come hear Councillor Loakes talk about the journey to get there — and, six years into the project — the payoffs that are starting to mount.

This is a ticketed, free-of-cost event. Book your ticket now at Eventbrite.

Here is the promotional video celebrating five years of the Mini Holland effort.

Here is Councillor Loakes trying to explain the programme to BBC Radio Oxford’s David Prever:

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